Quarriers Homes, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire
William Quarrier was born on September 6th 1829 at Crosshore Street, Greenock in Renfrewshire. After his father, a ship's carpenter, died from cholera when William was just three, the family moved to Glasgow. His mother took up laundry and sewing work to support William and his two sisters. At the age of six, William began to contribute to the family income working a ten-hour day in a pin factory on Graeme Street for a weekly wage of one shilling. Two years later he became an apprentice to a shoe and bootmaker, becoming qualified when he was twelve years old. When William was seventeen, he went to work as a shoemaker for a Mrs Hunter and began attending Blackfriars Baptist Church where he became a Christian. Six years later, he opened his own shoe shop, soon followed by two more. In 1856, he married Mrs Hunter's daughter, Isabella, and they had four children — Isabella, Agnes, Frank and Mary.
In November 1864, on his way home one evening, he was moved by an encounter with a young boy who was crying after his stock and night's earnings had been stolen by an older boy. He then took up the cause of street children, first by setting up a Shoe-black Brigade. The shoe-blacks were provided with a shoe-cleaning kit and uniform, the cost of which they gradually repaid from their earnings. They were also required to attend school classes in the evening and a Sunday school. A similar scheme followed for another group of Glasgow children who sold newspapers in the city's streets. A third enterprise, the Parcel Brigade, provide a team of uniformed parcel carriers who charged their customers a rate of 2d. per half mile, or 3d. a mile. The three brigades had a joint headquarters — the 'Industrial Brigade Home' — in the Trongate. The schemes were not as successful as Quarrier had hoped and were wound up within a few years.
During his work with the brigades, Quarrier met Annie Macpherson, a Quaker working in the East End of London. Macpherson was an advocate of sending poor children to start new lives Canada, and convinced Quarrier of the benefits of such work. In 1871, he had raised sufficient funds to open a homes for orphaned children at 10 Renfrew Lane and by the spring of the following year, thirty-five children were ready to emigrate to Canada. As the numbers of children grew, a second house was rented on Renfield Street where girls were the girls were housed, while the boys were moved to a mansion in Govan named Cessnock House. The girls also later moved to the Newstead and Elm Park homes in Govan. A night refuge and mission hall were also set up in Dovehill, replaced in 1875 by a new building in James Morrison Street which became known as the City Orphan Home.
Quarrier's ultimate vision was to take poor children completely away from the city streets. Instead of the traditional large monolithic institutions, he was influenced by a new type of children's accommodation that was starting to receive interest during the 1870s, the so-called cottage homes developments that were being set up by some poor law unions for workhouse children. Cottage homes 'villages' were generally sited in the country and comprised a number of houses each containing thirty or forty children and two house parents in a 'family group'. The developments typically included a school, church, infirmary, laundry, workshops etc.
In 1876, with the money raised from a growing band of supporters, Quarrier bought the 40-acre Nittingshill Farm located between Bridge of Weir and Kilmacolm. Building work commenced with the £1,500 cost of each children's house being met by further donations from friends. The site, known as the Orphan Homes of Scotland, opened in 1878 and eventually included around fifty houses together with everything needed for it to be a self-contained community including a post-office, general store, and even its own fire station..
In addition to the Orphan Homes, Quarrier contributed to his country's health care provision. In 1896, he set up Scotland's first sanatorium for tuberculosis patients on a site adjacent to the village. This was followed by the creation of the 'Colony of Mercy' providing care for sufferers of epilepsy. However, the latter was not to open its doors until after William Quarrier's death which took place on October 16th, 1903.
The layout of the site as it was in the mid-1890s is shown on the map below, published in 1897.
A 1913 edition of the map shows the appearance of additional children's houses, the fire station, TB sanatorium, and Colony of Mercy.
The children's homes were given names as follows:
During the 1920s and 1930s, the village housed up more than 1,500 children at any one time. The Orphan Homes site continued operating much as Quarrier had begun it until the early 1980s, with over 30,000 children were cared for during that period. Of that total, over 7,000 had emigrated to Canada or Australia. However, with changes in child-care practice and legislation, numbers residing at the village declined steadily from the 1970s onwards. The Quarriers organisation now directs its efforts to providing a wide range of social care services throughout Scotland.
- See the Quarriers enquiry web page
- Magnusson, Anna (2006) The Quarrier's Story: A History of Quarriers
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